Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Perspective - Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas - Schooling in Colonial America - The Invention of Common School Art - The Stream of Romantic Idealism in Art Education - 1890 to the First World War/Social Darwinism and the Quest for Beauty - Between the Wars/The Expressionist and Reconstructionist Streams in Art Education - Art Education from World War II to the Present

Notes from: Efland, Arthur. "Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.

Art Education in the Twentieth
Century: A History of Ideas

The Invention of Common School Art

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the trend to establish state-supported schooling is referred to as the common school movement. In an emerging industrial era the ability to read and write had become practical necessities. Industry required a workforce that could follow written instructions and maintain records, and this literacy also embraced aspects of the arts. Carpenters and builders had to be able to read the plans of clients, and, as we saw in the last chapter, designers were needed in factories.

This chapter concentrates on the development of the teaching of drawing. Drawing had become an essential skill, and yet its acceptance as a requisite part of the school's curriculum was slow in coming. Horace Mann, one of the early advocates for drawing, used three arguments to convince his New England contemporaries of its merits: (1) it would improve handwriting, (2) it was an essential industrial skill, and (3) it was a moral force. Later in the chapter, we will look at these arguments in detail. [p. 73]

Common school drawing made its first appearance in Pestalozzi's institute. It was taught in order to develop the faculty of perception through exercises that involved measurement of geometric forms. These exercises were not designed to elicit individual expression or to develop a sense of the beautiful, but to stimulate the rational powers of the mind. In this way children would learn to form accurate sense impressions as the basis for clear and distinct ideas. This pedagogy reflected the eighteenth-century philosophy of the Enlightenment, which viewed the power of reason as the means to improved lives and happiness.

Pestalozzi's methods also tended to reduce drawing to the mastery of a linear alphabet comprised of straight and curved lines. Even the title of Pestalozzi's manual A B C der Anschauung, alluded to the alphabet. The similarity between learning to draw and learning to write began with Pestalozzi and was repeatedly stressed throughout the century. Common school art education insisted that talent was not a necessary precondition for learning, that anyone who could learn to write could learn to draw. Moreover, anyone who could teach regular subjects could become a teacher of drawing.

Common school art was totally at variance with the aesthetic traditions of the fine arts. Throughout the century, art academies were gradually abandoning the linear , neoclassical drawing traditions of the later half of the eighteenth century in favor of drawing styles showing romantic tendencies. While tonal drawing with charcoal became common in academies of art, the art of schoolchildren held steadfast to outline drawing. Common school art also did not stress the human figure.

Once the tie of common school art to industry was established, it could be justified as a school subject supported at public expense, though it was not a study that met with popular acceptance. As Smith implemented his program grade by grade, mounting public resistance was encountered, especially from the middle classes. There is evidence of public acceptance for the evening drawing schools which remained in operation until 1905. Yet it seems clear that industrial drawing would not have been introduced without the support of a rich and powerful minority seeking to promote their own economic interests.

We might speculate on why the common school art that was conceived by Pestalozzi for purely intellectual purposes ended up becoming the servant of the factory system as the Industrial Revolution spread. Both the factory and Pestalozzian drawing were products of a similar kind of reductionism in which complex tasks are broken into simple units that are rearranged to make learning or productive processes efficient [Ellul, 1967]. When this happened there was a gain in productive efficiency but a corresponding loss in the aesthetic quality of manufactured goods, since manufacture ceased being guided by the artistic sensibility of trained craftsmen. And just as industrial manufacture lost an inherent aesthetic quality, so also did these schooling methods reduce the aesthetic quality of the art being taught.

Nevertheless, there were many individuals who decried this tendency as it emerged in the industrial sector of society, as we saw in Schiller. Indeed, one can view the cultural revolution known as romanticism as an alternative to the scientific rationalism that came into prominence during the nineteenth century. And just as the rationalistic pedagogies of Pestalozzi had their origins in the ideas of the Enlightenment, so did the romantic alternatives of Froebel and others originate in the philosophical idealism of Kant and Hegel. The following chapter looks at the stream of educational history. [pp. 113-114]


[Notes from: Efland, Arthur. "Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.]



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